Growing up in Richfield, Darby Hendrickson became quite familiar with Thomas "Jake" McCoy, the hockey lifer who coached at the youth through high school levels in Richfield and Minneapolis. The tie was especially strong because McCoy was a longtime coaching colleague with Larry Hendrickson, Darby's father, including serving as his assistant on the 1976 Richfield Spartans team that finished runner-up in the state tournament.
McCoy, a former Gophers and U.S. Olympic player, died on Feb. 5 at 79. He coached from the mid-1960s through 2013. Darby Hendrickson remembers a mentor with an infectious personality.
"Every time you saw him, you were excited to see him,'' said Hendrickson, the former Gophers and Wild player and current Wild assistant coach. "He just had an approach to life, and he loved the game. That combination made it fun to be around.''
Hendrickson saw the passion McCoy had in coaching at the youth level and the encouragement he had in introducing youngsters to the sport. "Jake basically taught you how to skate – push, touch glide,'' he said. "He was the lead instructor there, and he was awesome.''
Hendrickson, a 1991 Richfield High School graduate, also recalled McCoy's humor, calling him "the king of the one-liners'' who would use a zinger to get his point across but in a benevolent way.
"Because of coaching and family, I got to see both sides,'' Hendrickson said. "He had a great balance, and that's what we loved about him. He could be definitely hard-core with the focus and the approach you need to have to be successful, but he did it in his own way with all his sayings.''
McCoy, who played for Team USA in the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, had the respect of those he coached but wouldn't use his status as a player to elevate himself.
"He was pretty humble about it,'' Hendrickson said. "He never preached, 'I was a Gopher, I was an Olympian.' He never did that, which I thought really was an admirable trait. It wasn't about him; it was about us.''
As an assistant with the Wild, Hendrickson uses the lessons McCoy instilled in him.
"The one thing – he was really positive. Jake was a really competitive guy, but he was positive,'' Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson, whose father died in 2018 at age 75, was impressed by McCoy's resiliency as he battled health issues.
"He was one of the last of the Mohicans, I feel, that generation of really good people that you were fortunate to be influenced by,'' Hendrickson said.